Fighting for your life wasn’t so bad, on occasion. It woke you up, stirred your blood. Reminded you that you were still alive, goddammit.
Christ knew Zan felt it, clear down to his bones. The joy of victory, and the satisfaction that came with helping to defend his home. It warmed him more than Trix leaning into his side—and that was saying something.
She sighed, her breath puffing out white in the cold air. “Thanks for walking with me, Zan.”
“Any time, darling.” He slid his hands into his pockets and looked around. No one lingered on the street corners, not even to gossip about the fight that had rocked the market. “Not that many people are out tonight. I’d say Dallas made his point about who still runs things.”
“Not like he had a choice.”
Dallas never did, not when his sector and his people were threatened. He had to act quickly, decisively, because power in the sectors was like a fat wallet in your pocket—eventually someone would try to snatch it, and then you had to beat the bastard down. “Hell, no. It’s been coming for a while. That’s the price, right? You can be easygoing most of the time, but when it’s time to teach a lesson, you better make it stick.”
She was silent for half a block, wrapped up in her thoughts. Finally, she tilted her pretty face up to his. “Do you think Fleming will let it go, or come after Dallas?”
Only one way to answer, and Zan didn’t hesitate. “Doesn’t matter. Dallas won’t let it go. It’s going to be war, one way or another. Only question is who hits first. And who hits hardest.”
She stiffened, and her voice was laced with resignation. “I left Sector Five behind for a reason. I guess I’m not excited to have it all back in my face, is all.”
“I know.” He draped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her more tightly to his side. “We won’t let those drugged-out bastards fuck with you. You’re an O’Kane now. Don’t forget it.”
“Thanks, Zan. That means a lot.”
She seemed so fragile in the dim light. Breakable, and it roused his protective instincts. “Any time, girl. Now where are we—?”
The sound of a vehicle screeching around the corner raised the hairs on the back of his neck, and Zan reached for his gun. He’d barely touched it when shots erupted, and fire blazed through him.
The pain drove out everything else for a paralyzing heartbeat—the street, Trix, even his own goddamn name. Then it exploded in a red haze that blanketed the world. He hit the wall, his fingers still folded tight around the butt of his pistol.
He tried to pull it free, to fire back, but he was frozen, not with cold but with the scorching pain. He could only slide down the wall to the cracked concrete. Trix’s screams roared in his ears, but he was helpless to do anything about it.
Move, dammit. Move. His traitorous body ignored him, and he lay in the pool of blood that seeped from his body. It steamed in the chilly night, just like Trix’s breath had, and a perverse urge to laugh gripped him.
Fighting for your life. It sucked, after all.
Dimly, he heard male voices, a van door slamming shut. It peeled away, and Trix was gone. No witnesses, only Zan and his blood, growing cold on the ground. Only failure.
I’m sorry. The thought flitted through his mind but vanished in a split second, swallowed up by blackness.
Logan Beckett was one sincerely unsettling motherfucker.
Finn recognized the irony of the sentiment. Next to Beckett’s tailored suit, polished shoes, and clean-shaven jaw, his own three-day stubble and bloodshot eyes weren’t exactly a character recommendation. The battered leather boots didn’t help. Neither did the tattoos. Mac Fleming made a big deal about how his sector was civilized, and Finn had always figured the tattoos reminded him of Dallas O’Kane.
Reminding Fleming of Dallas O’Kane wasn’t exactly the way to get ahead in Sector Five.
Beckett knew that. He knew how to fake civilized like it was going out of style. Perfect clothes, perfect grooming, perfect loyalty. Hell, he even had a perfect wife—Mac Fleming’s eldest daughter, the ultimate accessory for an ambitious man eager to take on a leadership role in the family business.
What he didn’t have was a shred of humanity in his cunning gaze. Finn wasn’t in a position to throw stones there—he’d done shit that had given him horrifying dreams, and a few things so bad the dreams were better company than the memories.
But goddamn, at least he had nightmares.
“You heard me,” Beckett said smoothly. “As of now, nothing recreational hits the streets without additives.”
Fuck, Finn hated the additives. The people who wanted oblivion were already wasting their money and lives, and they were doing it willingly. Drugs didn’t have to be a messy business anymore, because science had taken addiction out of the equation.
Beckett was putting it back in. With interest.
Though arguing with the bastard was pointless, Finn still tried. Not because he thought it would help, he just liked irritating him. “Doesn’t that make shit more expensive?”
The man sighed. “In the short term. But once all of our customers are equally dedicated, price increases will be well tolerated.”
Equally addicted, you mean. “And if someone doesn’t want to get that dedicated? Are we not selling the regular stuff at all anymore?”
“Of course we are. If the price is right.” Beckett shuffled some of the papers on his desk and stifled a yawn. “I don’t want any of the small-time dealers handling it, though. Those bastards can’t be trusted.”
Maybe not by him. Finn crossed his arms over his chest, forcing Beckett to stare at the lines of ink winding up his left. “They’ll do what I tell them to do.”
Beckett sat slowly back in the chair and studied him. “At one time, I would have agreed.”
Not an unreasonable doubt—at one time, Finn hadn’t been slowly undermining the whole damn sector. “You saying I can’t keep my boys in line?”
Beckett smiled. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
A chill slithered up Finn’s spine. Christ, that smile was creepy. It was off, like the man knew how to move all the right muscles but didn’t have anything to back it up. The only emotion lurking behind those cool blue eyes was anticipation.
Something was really fucking wrong. Beckett might hate Finn, might sneer down his nose and drop barbs into every conversation, but he’d never crossed the line into outright disrespect. Someone had to do the man’s dirty work.
Finn tensed, fighting the gut instinct to go for his gun. Shooting his way out of Five was a suicide mission—and a last resort. So he played the game, twisting his features into a scowl. “If you have a problem with how I run shit, maybe you should lay it on out.”
That chilling smile grew as Beckett leaned forward. “All right—” A quick chirp from the small tablet on his desk interrupted the words, and he glanced over at it with a sigh. “Mac wants you in his office.”
“Guess you’ll have to give me that job critique later.” Finn rolled out of his chair, his hand still itching for his gun. The spot between his shoulder blades itched just as much when he turned his back on Beckett, even though he’d stopped caring about taking a bullet in the spine a long time ago.
He’d stopped caring about damn near everything a long time ago.
Mac’s office was the last place Finn wanted to be. The man had been unlivable since Dallas O’Kane had thwarted his attempt to set up a puppet as the new leader of Sector Four. He’d spent an entire afternoon raging, swearing he’d call the sector leaders together and accuse Dallas of violating his territory.
Which, to be fair, he had. O’Kane and his men had blown up a warehouse on the edge of Sector Five. Under any other circumstances, that might have brought retaliation from the other leaders. But Mac had been financing bootleggers who’d been doing a little violating of their own when it came to O’Kane’s territory.
No high ground there.
Finn had barely taken three steps out of Beckett’s office when Ryder fell in beside him, a deeper-than-usual frown creasing his dark face. “We’ve got trouble.”
Great. Just fucking great. “Does it have anything to do with why Beckett’s looking so damn pleased with himself tonight?”
“If he’s happy, it won’t be for long.” Ryder cursed under his breath, vicious and low. “That asshole O’Kane kicked out of Four is gonna get us all killed.”
“Who, Dom?” More evidence of Mac’s slipping grasp on reason. Dominic wasn’t even a useful asset, just some stupid, bitter brute whose explanations for why Dallas O’Kane booted him got more ridiculous every day. No useful intel, no brains. All the bastard ever did was spew bile about his former boss while Mac hung on his every word. “What the hell did he do now?”
“Not what he did—what Mac did for him.” Ryder shook his head, his shoulders tight. “The motherfucker kidnapped one of ’em. Don’t know what she is to Dom, or why he wants her, but she’s got the ink.”
Finn stopped so fast his boots squeaked on the hardwood floor. “Wait, back the hell up. Mac did what?”
Ryder spun around, his expression grave. “He snatched an O’Kane right out of Sector Four, and we’re all fucked. We’re in it now, whether we want to be or not.”
Jesus fucking Christ.
Finn stared at his closest friend—his only friend—hoping for one crazy second that it was all a twisted joke. But Ryder stared back, grim and angry, and Finn flashed back to the last time he’d come face-to-face with Dallas when someone had endangered one of his women.
He’d almost gotten his head blown off.
“So that’s it,” Finn said. “This is how we go down. Riding Fleming’s hate right into our graves.”
Ryder arched one eyebrow and tilted his head down the hall in the direction of Fleming’s office. “Talk him down. Tell him we’ll fix it before things go too far.”
How were they supposed to do that, drop the girl at the edge of the sector and hope she didn’t blab? That was assuming any bird with O’Kane ink wouldn’t turn around and go for their balls.
No, Finn had been laying this groundwork for far too damn long. Chipping away at Mac’s base of power, delivering frustration instead of victory. He’d known it would all blow up in his face eventually.
Hell, he’d counted on having a front row seat. He hadn’t bothered with an exit strategy because he hadn’t wanted one. He deserved the fall that was coming.
Finn grabbed his friend’s arm and hauled him into the nearest empty room, slamming the door behind them with a bite of temper. This was why making friends was stupid. Caring about people complicated shit.
Finn had never planned on liking Ryder. The other man was nothing like him. He was smart. Ambitious. He’d rocketed up the ranks of Mac’s organization through wits and stubbornness, somehow always finding that line Finn wove back and forth across, the one that made a man decent, even if he was ruthless.
He held up both hands now. “Whatever you’re about to say—”
“Shut up.” Finn braced his hand against the door, as if he could hold it shut if Ryder really wanted to get through. Not that Finn wasn’t tough, but Ryder had always been in a different league. A better league. Everything about him screamed polish, from his fitted leather jacket to his tattoos—high-quality black and gray etched into his brown skin, the kind of artwork Finn couldn’t have afforded when he got his first ink.
Ryder had never belonged in a hellhole like Five, so Finn was going to get him out. “There’s no fixing this. O’Kane will burn us to the ground, but you’re new enough to make it out first. So you need to take that girl over to Four and buy your way into O’Kane’s good graces.”
“Yes, you can. I’ll distract the guards, and you—”
“I can’t leave,” Ryder repeated flatly.
Final fucking words, and they were out of time. Mac would send someone to fetch him if he didn’t arrive like a good guard dog, and he couldn’t make Ryder save himself.
Finn’s best intentions had never been worth much.
Exhaling roughly, he jerked open the door. “Fine. Do you know which woman he grabbed?” Please don’t let it be Lex.
“I don’t know—some redhead.”
Fuck. Damn near four years, and it still felt like getting kicked in the gut. Thank God redheads were rare—he’d known just a handful, and only one who really mattered. Maybe he’d never be able to think of red hair without imagining her the last time he’d seen her, sprawled lazily across his bed, floating on the rush, her long red hair a tousled halo around her pale face.
He hadn’t given her the drugs that killed her that night, but he’d given her enough over the years to have no illusions about his involvement. Her death was on his shoulders, her blood on his hands.
He could almost feel it as he approached Mac’s office. He was shocked not to see his fingers dripping red when he reached out to rap on the heavy oak door and waited for permission to enter.
Instead, the door slammed open to reveal Dom’s glowering face. “Don’t get any bright ideas,” he sneered. “That bitch is mine.” He shoved past Finn and stomped down the hall.
Finn tilted his head, and Ryder headed after Dom with a short nod.
Bracing himself, Finn swung into Mac’s office—and stopped cold.
It couldn’t be. He blinked and let his gaze sweep over the woman, trying to discount that first disorienting impression. She was tied to a chair, the plastic ties digging into skin marked by O’Kane ink. She was disheveled, her clothing askew, ripped in places, her red hair wild. Killer curves, a pointed chin, a split, bloody lip that someone needed to die for giving her—
Glassy, blue-green eyes. Familiar eyes.
Tracy was alive.
She stared back at him—frozen, scarcely breathing—and Mac stepped into the silence with a quiet hum of approval. “She looks good, doesn’t she?”
Finn barely heard him. Barely saw him.
Fucking hell, Tracy was alive.
She sat there like a statue or a ghost or a fucking hallucination until Mac brushed her cheek. When she flinched away, he grabbed her by the hair and jerked her head back.
Finn’s fingers flexed, and he could already feel Mac’s throat beneath them. He’d crush the fucking life out of his boss and consider it his best day ever. “Get your hand off her.”
“I don’t think so.” Mac bent low, putting his face close to hers. “She stole from me.”
That got her attention. She turned her head so fast she almost bumped into Mac. “I did not, you lying asshole. You gave me those drugs.”
It made a sick sort of sense. The leader of Sector Five didn’t mess with common girls. Only the best for him—young, pretty, and drugged out of their minds. Eager to do anything and everything to stay that way. It was a soft, blissful life, a short one, which meant Mac was always on the prowl for a replacement.
He would have taken Tracy just to prove he could. “You told me she overdosed.”
“I honestly figured she had.” Mac studied her. “But you sold it all and ran, didn’t you, love? Over to Sector Four.”
So casual. Curious, but only vaguely, as if he didn’t care about the answer one way or another but was simply going through the motions. Finn knew better. Mac had staged this melodramatic reveal for him, and this was just the opening act.
Finn had to get them both out of there before Dom came back for the big finale. “Yeah, she ran straight into Dallas O’Kane’s arms. Is this really how you want to start a sector war?”
“War was inevitable, and it’s already begun,” Mac said absently. He was focused on Tracy, staring at her like he was trying to decode an unfamiliar language. “We all thought you were dead. Finn, too. You walked away and never looked back—that’s stone cold, darling. Color me impressed.”
Her jaw clenched, her gaze clashing with Finn’s before she looked away, and it didn’t matter that four years had passed. He knew what she’d been thinking the day she’d walked out of Sector Five, out of his life. Once Mac set his sights on a girl, her opportunities narrowed to two—survive as long as she could as a high-class junkie whore, or die trying to get out.
Tracy had picked the path that wouldn’t take Finn down with her.
He rolled his shoulders, letting himself really feel the familiar weight of his shoulder holster. His gun was right there in easy reach. Two big steps and he could have it shoved under Mac Fleming’s jaw. He owed her that much.
Christ, he owed her everything.
“You cost Dom his O’Kane ink,” Mac continued, his voice taking on a wicked, sharp edge as he pulled her hair harder, pulled until a whimper escaped her. “Have you seen his scars? He’s eager to show them to you. Every…single…one.”
Finn didn’t choose to move, but then he never made choices when it came to Tracy. Every damn time she brushed his life, he stumbled forward without control or reason.
He didn’t stumble now, just took those two steps and dug the barrel of his gun under Mac’s chin. “Let her go. Now.”
Mac’s eyes went wide before narrowing as he barked out a laugh. “You stupid bastard.”
Finn ground the gun deeper into the man’s flesh, pressing up until Mac had to stretch onto his toes. “I’m not telling you again. You can let her go back to Sector Four and fuck what Dom wants, or I’ll blow off the top of your head right now.”
Mac stared back at him, his eyes burning with outrage. “Do it. Neither one of you would make it out of here al—”
Finn squeezed the trigger. One shot, and it splattered Mac Fleming’s fucking brains all over his office.
It was loud, reverberating through the room as Finn watched his boss fall to the floor. Putting another round in his head as insurance would have been smart—just to be sure he was well and truly beyond saving, even with regen tech—but Mac’s last words had been truth.
If Finn wanted to get them out of Sector Five alive, he didn’t have bullets to waste.
Her nightmare had taken a turn for the better.
Trix stared down at the blood on her clothes, frozen in an interminable moment of confusion and torn between a laugh and a scream.
Mac Fleming was gone. Better than gone—dead—and the laugh won. Only it didn’t come out sounding like a laugh at all, more like a frightened, strangled whimper.
Warm hands cupped her face, and a broad, calloused thumb swept over her cheek. “I got you, girl. Stay with me.”
Finn’s words echoed in her ears, as surreal as the sensation of his hands on her face. “This isn’t real.”
“I know how you feel. Look at me, Tracy.”
Her vision swam as she lifted her gaze. Finn had always been a rock, the only solid, reliable thing in her old life. Surely if this was a dream or drug-induced hallucination, he’d look the same—serious, intense, the barest hint of one of his rare smiles lifting the corner of his mouth.
Instead, he looked worn. Not just older but haggard, his beard scruffier than she remembered. His eyes were bloodshot and red, as if he hadn’t slept in months, and her mother’s voice drifted up somewhere behind her. Ten miles of bad road.
“Fuck,” he whispered roughly. “Close your eyes and breathe.”
He bent to tug at the plastic tie securing her hands. The room went dark for a moment, and Trix opened her mouth to remark on the darkness before she realized she’d only closed her eyes.
She licked her lips and winced at the pain—and the taste of blood. “They gave me something—”
The door opened and slammed shut. “Holy fuck,” a new voice growled.
Trix snapped her eyes open. The man who had come in was dark—dark clothes, skin, eyes, hair. He locked the door behind him and stepped forward, but all of his attention was focused on Fleming’s body.
Finn pulled a knife and cut her hands free. “Ryder, meet Tracy.”
That stopped the man in his tracks. “Tracy?”
“Yeah.” Finn rubbed Trix’s wrists before rising, the knife still gripped in a steady hand. “Shit’s about to get real ugly.”
Ryder’s jaw clenched, and he dropped to quickly check the dead man’s pockets. He came up with a small pistol, which he pressed into Finn’s hands. “Come on. Hurry.”
Finn didn’t ask if she could stand. Instead, he hooked an arm under her legs and one behind her back, lifting her with familiar ease. “I’m going to get you out, girl. One way or another, you’re going home. You hear me?”
Ryder headed for the back of the room and the narrow, cleverly concealed hallway leading to the exit from Mac’s office. Trix had stumbled down it before, and she closed her eyes now to block out the memory.
“I can’t help you much,” Ryder bit off, his words clipped and urgent. “But I have some resources in place.”
Finn’s body tensed. His arms tightened, crushing her body to his chest. “What kind of resources?”
“The kind that just might save your life.”
They burst through the back door, and a wave of cold air cleared Trix’s head a little. “The border,” she mumbled, gripping Finn’s vest. “If we can make it back to Four—”
“You won’t,” Ryder said flatly. “Not on the streets. Any minute now, the whole goddamn sector’s gonna be swarming with Fleming’s men.”
“Beckett’s men,” Finn corrected with a rumble. “He’ll need to make a good show of it.”
“He gives zero fucks,” Ryder agreed, heading down the shadowed alley toward a back street cluttered with delivery trucks. “But there’s no time for him to gloat. Especially when he could have your fool head on a platter, too. What the fuck were you thinking, man?”
A grunt. “Doesn’t matter now. All that matters is getting her back to O’Kane.”
“Yeah, good luck with that.” Ryder took a left down a narrow gap between two buildings.
The space wasn’t wide enough to be considered an alley, and Finn let Trix slide to her feet before urging her into the darkness. She tripped over a loose brick and pitched forward, landing hard against Ryder’s back.
He turned and stared down at her, backlit by the faint moonlight filtering down between the buildings. He looked like an angel—not the kind with harps and halos, but an angel of war, fierce and terrifying.
“Hopkins picked her up,” he growled. “He uses hallucinogens.”
“Christ, that explains it.” Finn caught her chin and tilted her face toward the light. “Shit. Shit. She can’t be stumbling around the sector in this condition.”
“She won’t be.” Ryder shoved a tall crate aside, revealing a dented door behind it. The lock was new, electronic, and advanced. Out of place in a shitty, narrow alley behind Mac Fleming’s office.
Trix blinked at him. “Who are you?”
Instead of answering, he opened the door and snatched up a small black duffel before waving them in. “I didn’t pack enough supplies for two people,” he said, thrusting the bag at Finn. “Three days, tops. There’s a map of the tunnels in the side pocket.”
Finn caught Ryder’s arm, and the two of them exchanged a look Trix couldn’t decipher, some sort of silent communication that ended with Finn biting off a curse and seizing the bag. “You’re crazier than I am, you know that?”
“Hey, somebody’s gotta be.” Ryder shrugged. “How else is all this shit gonna stop?”
“Don’t get dead,” Finn ordered, swinging the heavy duffel up on one shoulder. His other arm slid around Trix’s waist. “Tell them I ran south. Beckett’ll believe it.”
The only thing south of Sector Five was desert, wide and open under the sky—and Finn’s tiny cabin, the one he’d fixed up with his own hands.
She’d been there only a couple of times, riding the whole way on the back of his bike, not quite sheltered from the wind by his solid shoulders. She could feel it now, whispering over her skin and roaring in her ears.
She might as well have been back there, watching idly as he stoked the fire, gentle light playing across his bare skin. Her lips moved, and she found herself asking him the same question she had then. “Do you ever think about ending it all?”
“Not tonight, doll.” His arm tightened as light flared in front of her eyes. A flashlight, bright enough to illuminate a narrow tunnel leading down into the ground. “Come on, Tracy. Just put one foot in front of the other, and you’ll be back with the O’Kanes before you know it.”
“Trix.” She braced one hand on the pitted wall. “I changed my name because of you.” So no one would put two and two together, so Fleming would never come after her and use her to hurt Finn.
“Trix,” he echoed, his voice rough around her name. “Whatever I call you, doesn’t change facts. We’ve got to move. Can you walk, or do I need to carry you?”
“I’m fine.” Her spinning head threatened to turn her into a liar. She shook away some of the haze and focused on taking even, careful steps into the darkness.
Whatever waited there couldn’t be more terrifying than what was behind them.
Ryder’s map was meticulously labeled in his precise hand, and it outlined multiple routes out of Sector Five. The one to Four was straightforward enough, but there was one big damn problem.
It led straight under the factory Dallas O’Kane had blown up earlier in the week.
Finn stared at the rubble from the cave-in while Tracy—Trix, and wasn’t that a guilt-punch in the gut?—slumped against the wall, trying not to show how hard she was coming down. It took effort not to swing her up into his arms over her protests, but doing anything over her protests didn’t seem like a smart move right now.
Stomping down panic, Finn shoved the useless map back into its side pocket and turned to her. “We need to find a place to rest for a few hours. Get some food into both of us. Can you make it back to that four-way intersection? A few of those doors had old-fashioned locks.”
She nodded, then winced and pressed the heel of her hand to her temple. “What the hell did they give me?”
Christ only knew. Hopkins had a new favorite rush every week, and most of them jacked you up so high you saw pink dragons and polka dots. “Probably nothing too heavy, if you’re walking straight and still know your name. Need a hand?”
“No.” She took a shaky step away, then turned back down the tunnel. “Supply hubs. Noah said there were storage rooms under Five. For the factories.”
Finn froze. Adrenaline had faded enough for his brain to kick in, and connecting the dots stirred rage. Noah Lennox had popped back into Finn’s life and work with the same abruptness as he’d left it, mouthing big claims about how he was ready to help Mac take Dallas O’Kane down.
Finn hadn’t bought it. He wasn’t sure Mac ever had, either. Noah wasn’t a great liar or an eager criminal. But he had a weak spot—a girl who’d ended up with the O’Kanes—and Mac had never questioned Noah’s claim that Dallas tried to blackmail him with the girl’s safety. It was exactly what Mac had been planning to do, after all.
Mac should have known better. Dallas O’Kane didn’t bully men into working for him. He seduced them with big dreams, soft living, and the fantasy of brotherhood. In return, he enjoyed the kind of loyalty most petty kings only dreamed about.
So it wasn’t a shock that Noah had been playing both sides, sharing information about Five with the O’Kanes. Finn wasn’t exactly the poster boy for sector loyalty, either. But that bastard had sat across from him as recently as four days ago, knowing Tracy was alive, knowing how Finn had always felt about her…
Nothing. Not a word. Not a fucking hint. “So you and Lennox are tight now?”
“He’s trying his best,” she muttered. “We all are, Finn. Don’t blame him.”
“Don’t blame him for what, Tra—?” He bit off her name. Her new one felt like battery acid on his tongue. Tracy, turning tricks. Turning into Trix. Because of him. “Trix.”
“For not telling you I was in Four.” She shuddered. “It’s not his fault. I wasn’t ready to face you. I’m still not.”
Another knife in the gut, but he didn’t let it show. “Fair enough, doll. As soon as you’re snuggled up in Sector Four again, I’ll be out of your face.”
She whirled on him. “That isn’t what I want.”
He almost asked what she did want, but his lips wouldn’t move. They’d hit the part of the tunnels lit by emergency lights, a soft glow from strips high on either wall that softened the shadows and washed away the worst impact of the drugs and her fear.
She looked fierce. Healthy. Getting away from him had given her a chance to bloom, to become an independent woman instead of some fading junkie. She’d gained weight and curves, the kind men lost their minds and their good sense over. The kind men started wars over, on the off chance she’d cast those big, beautiful eyes your way and smile.
Hell, he’d just started a war for her, and she could barely look at him.
“Let’s find one of those storage rooms, and we can figure it out. Okay?” He held out his arm.
Reluctantly, she took it. “I’m doing this all wrong.”
He didn’t know how the hell to comfort her, so he fell back on old habits. Lazy and sarcastic, because even when he’d cared, he hadn’t known how to do it well. “If there’s a right way to get kidnapped, sweet cheeks, that’s news to me.”
She sucked in a breath, sharp and rough. “Zan.”
It took Finn a few seconds to connect the name with a face. A bouncer at O’Kane’s bar, one of his soldiers who had been a member for a long time without rising into Dallas’s inner circle. Important to recognize on sight, but not a player. Not in Finn’s world. “What about him?”
She went pale. “He was walking with me. They—they shot him—” The words broke off, and her hand clenched on Finn’s arm.
He bit back another curse and swung his other arm around her. “I’m sorry, honey,” he whispered, pressing his lips to the top of her head. “I should have put that bastard down months ago. Years ago.”
Trix took another shaky breath and broke free of his embrace. “You’re not the only one.”
No, but he was the one who’d had a thousand opportunities. So many times he could have put his gun to the man’s head and pulled the trigger, but he hadn’t. Not when it could have done some good. Logan Beckett had undoubtedly already stepped into Mac’s shoes, an even bigger monster with an even smaller conscience.
Too little, too late. That was his go-to move. And he still wanted to pull Trix back into his arms, wrap himself around her, breathe in her scent until it felt like his own. He wanted to run his bloodstained hands over all those perfect curves and watch her chest rise with each breath, because every fucking part of this moment was so surreal, he was probably dreaming.
Mac Fleming was dead. Tracy was alive.
I missed you. He had no right to say that to her, not when she kept pulling back. She was radiant, and he was the dirt and muck of her past, still clinging to her boots. “Is your life good in Four?”
She reached the intersection and stopped, spinning around to peer down each corridor before answering simply, “It’s home. I have a family there.”
Family was more than he’d ever given her. So he steeled his heart and his nerves and focused on the one thing that mattered—getting her back to the people she loved.
The people who deserved her.
They tried four corridors and backtracked twice before Finn found a promising door without a fancy card-swipe control panel. His picks were tucked inside his boot, so he let Trix hold the bag as he knelt and studied the lock. “Bet Noah Lennox has fun down in these tunnels with that big brain of his. Hacks his way past all the fancy security, huh?”
“He spends most of his time with Emma.” She hesitated. “Cibulski’s little sister. You remember him, right?”
Finn glanced up, but Trix didn’t look like she was digging. Maybe that was a blessing, that she still had that much faith in him. Someone else might have asked, but there would have been a second question beneath the first. An accusation.
Did you kill him?
He hadn’t. Cibulski had sealed his fate when he’d taken the drugs he was supposed to be dealing, but Finn hadn’t pulled the trigger on him. He’d just cleaned up the mess—his own way. “I never meant for the kid to find him. Noah was supposed to be on his way there.”
“Oh.” Her hand grazed his shoulder, a light touch that ended too quickly. “You were trying to warn him.”
He turned his attention back to the lock, but his movements were simply muscle memory and instinct. His focus was still trapped in the fleeting whisper of her touch on his shoulder and the deeper heat kindled by her lingering trust. “Mac was going after the sister next, trying to get Noah in line. None of us needed that. Mac’s too greedy. He’d have gotten us firebombed inside a year.”
The lock yielded under his hands, the click of the tumblers almost drowning out her soft noise of assent. “And now he’s dead.”
“Now he’s dead,” Finn agreed. “And his crazy-ass son-in-law is up there, getting real comfortable in Mac’s chair. It’s Beckett’s best day ever.”
“You can’t stop them all, Finn.”
He tucked away the tools and rose without looking at her. “Stopping him’s not on my radar. Nothing is right now except for getting you home.”
She laid her hand on his arm and, this time, left it there. “Thank you.”
He hadn’t brought his jacket, so she was touching him, brushing the tattoos just beneath his shirt sleeve. Her fingers were pale and delicate against the vivid ink, bringing back memories he’d locked away out of self-defense. It felt obscene to slide his own rough hand over hers, but he couldn’t stop himself.
And God, her skin was soft. Smooth. His calloused fingertips scraped over the back of her hand as he traced up to the raw spots around her wrist. “Ryder probably has a med kit in this thing.”
She stared up at him. “What?”
“For your wrists.” He brushed his thumb over hers, and the catch in her breath wasn’t his imagination. Neither were the sparks. They’d always been there, buried under their respective layers of drugs and hopelessness. Nice, but dull. Muted.
Not anymore. That tiny hitch sparked all over him, carving out a wanting he couldn’t afford to indulge. He needed to get his hands off her. He needed to back off, so he wouldn’t end up hiding a boner behind the fucking duffel bag while she shivered through withdrawal and worried about her friend.
He needed to do anything except hold her gaze and stroke her wrist again.
Trix sucked in another breath. “Finn—”
A thundering sound shook the ground above them, a strange galloping noise that made no sense until the distant buzz of shouting voices joined in.
“Shit.” He wrenched open the door and scanned inside with a flashlight, taking note of boxes, a dusty floor, and not much else. Barely bigger than a closet, with just enough room for them to stretch out side by side.
It was all they had.
He hustled her inside with a hand at the small of her back and checked the outside tunnel to make sure there was no sign of their passage before swinging the door shut as quietly as possible and engaging the lock.
Trix huddled against the wall, still except for her trembling. “Will they find us?” she whispered.
“No. Hell, no.” He made his voice more confident than he felt. “They’ll figure we made a run for it, not hunkered down right under their feet. Probably no one will even come into the tunnels.”
“If they do…” She licked her lips and squared her shoulders. “You could go back. Tell them I shot Mac.”
“Tell them—” The words really penetrated, and then he was moving again. Moving without thinking, crowding into her space to slam both hands against the wall on either side of her head. He loomed over her, intimidating, trapping her and not caring as he lowered his face until she had to look at him. “Don’t you fucking think it, woman. Do you hear me?”
Her angry, fierce gaze clashed with his for one heart-stopping moment before she turned her head, averting her eyes. “Hypocrite.”
He caught her chin and forced her gaze back, his heart slamming against his ribs in full-on terror. He had to head this off, had to make her believe, so he gave her the truth. The raw, messy truth. “I’m breathing because you’re breathing. You hear me? I was on a slow trip out of this world before you showed up. You dying would only speed that shit up.”
Trix stared up at him, her eyes wide, her chest heaving with shallow, quick breaths. “Okay,” she said finally. “Okay, I get it.”
He forced himself to release her chin before his fingers dug bruises into her delicate skin. But he’d already left marks—smears in the sticky, drying blood splattered across her face. He’d blown a man’s head off not two feet from her, while she was tripping through daisy fields, rolling on Jesus knew what.
And she was still holding it together. He had to do the same. “I’m sorry.” He gentled his voice. “It’s not gonna come to that, okay? The only guy up there with any brains at all is Ryder. By morning, he’ll have them crawling all over the area south of the sector.”
She nodded, then sagged against the wall, sliding down it as her knees gave way. He helped her sit, and she combed her hands through her tangled hair. “It’ll be all right,” she muttered.
Finn murmured reassurances and dragged Ryder’s bag closer. It was packed with the medical kit he expected, plus emergency rations, water, and a tiny radiant heater with a fully charged battery. He also found a loaded handgun and a tightly folded reflective blanket.
Ryder had been ready to run, which explained a lot of things. Why he hadn’t taken Finn’s offer. Why a man with his brains and skills was in a shithole like Five to begin with. Men with morals didn’t rise high in Fleming’s operation unless they had a reason to.
Clearly Ryder had a reason. Whatever it was, Finn hoped the man could keep his hide intact while Beckett seized power. Then again, considering Beckett’s disdain for Finn and appreciation for culture and class, Ryder probably had Finn’s job already.
That was good for Finn. He pulled out the blanket and handed it to Trix. “Wrap yourself up while I see about your wrists. It’s going to get cold in here tonight.”
She obeyed, though it took her several moments to work the blanket open, and her shaking was worse. A lot worse. “They don’t hurt.”
Shit. He dropped the kit and settled against the wall next to her. “Come here, doll.” Not quite a command, and he didn’t reach for her. Instead, he held his arms open, offering her the chance to come to him.
She closed her eyes, as if shutting out the sight of him. “Don’t.”
It hurt. But he had it coming, so he didn’t let it show. He took the blanket and tucked it around her without touching her. Her jaw clenched, and she held herself stiffly, her back rigid and straight.
Oh yeah, he had a lifetime of this coming. He’d lost the right to touch her the first time he’d laid hands on her, all those years ago when he’d still suffered under the delusion that he was a half-decent guy. Wanting her had cured him of that. Losing her had driven the lesson home.
All he could do was get her back to Four, back to the loving arms of her real family. Preferably before she figured out Dallas O’Kane wouldn’t greet him with hugs and kisses.
Chances were fifty-fifty he’d end tomorrow in a ditch with an O’Kane bullet rattling around in his skull. As long as she was safe, he’d consider it a fair trade.
She couldn’t stop shaking.
At first, it terrified her. She had no idea what drugs her abductor had forced on her—and whether they were laced with the addictive additive Mac Fleming favored. It had been years since she’d suffered through the twists and pangs of withdrawal, but the memory was etched in her brain.
Agony. There was no other word for it, not just the pain but the craving. The bone-deep knowledge that she’d die without the drugs, the moments where she would have done anything to end the torment. Watching Jade scream and cry through the same thing so recently had brought those memories rushing to the surface, sharp and stinging.
Gradually, Trix realized this was different. Not once had she thought to ask Finn if he was carrying, and that fact helped to settle her. At one point, she’d have done more than ask him for drugs—she’d have climbed into his lap, cajoled, whispered filthy promises in his ear.
At one point, she might have shot him in the fucking head and gone through his pockets afterward.
The thought almost brought her off the wall to put more space between them. But he was cold, too—he hid his shivering well, but he couldn’t stop his lips from turning blue—so she eased closer and shifted the blanket. “Here.”
“I’m okay,” he replied quietly, but he didn’t move away. He caught the edge of the blanket and held it against his chest, his focus never wavering from the door.
The urge to touch him damn near overwhelmed her, and it only grew stronger the closer she got. But she couldn’t keep pulling away, so she settled for stroking his forearm. “I think they’re gone.”
“Probably.” He tensed under her fingertips, his strong muscles flexing. “You should eat and drink something and get a little more rest.”
Nothing he planned on doing himself, obviously. “I’d like to clean up.”
After a moment of silence, he snagged the medical kit from the bag. “Will you let me bandage your wrists, too?”
Anything to give him a task, something to distract him from staring at the door with a gun in his hand. “Thank you.”
He moved slowly. Precisely. He’d always had a lazy patience to his movements, but it seemed more serious now as he took inventory of the kit and pulled out gauze, med-gel, bandages, and a handful of antiseptic wipes. He laid out the supplies in a neat line before shifting to his knees, one hand hovering beneath her chin. “Can you tilt your head up a little?”
The hesitation made her chest ache, so she guided his hand to her jaw as she complied. “I’m not scared of you, Finn.”
“Never thought you were, doll.” He cupped her chin, warm and gentle, and began to carefully clean her cheek. “I’m sorry about this. I should have handled him better.”
“You did what you had to do.”
“No, I did what I wanted to do. The usual.”
“You’re too hard on yourself. You always have been.”
“Have I?” He snorted as he tilted her head back and worked his way along her jaw. “It’s been a while, Trix. Things change.”
“Yes, they do.” She closed her eyes and tried not to focus on the impossible gentleness of his rough fingers. “You haven’t asked me why.”
“Don’t need to. You always were smart, even when you were high. You did the smart thing.”
“Not the leaving. After I got clean, I meant to get in touch, let you know I was okay.” Maybe even to ask if he would ever consider leaving, too. “I never could figure out what to say.”
He sighed softly. “You don’t have to explain. You didn’t owe me anything, you got that? Other way around, really.”
“It feels like I did.” He’d been the one to keep her from spinning out of control, from winding up dead because she was too fucked up to keep herself alive.
“Uh-huh.” He tilted her head in the other direction, his touch still gentle. It lingered this time, his thumb making small, soothing circles against the underside of her jaw as he cleaned her left cheek. “Well, thinking I’d gotten you killed got me clean, so whatever feelings you have, count us square.”
Clean, maybe—but he seemed hopeless, not happy, such a far cry from her new life in Sector Four. Guilt suffused her. “After everything you did for me—”
“Stop,” he grated out. “Just—you live in Four now, don’t you? Land of the motherfucking heroes. You should know the difference between being good and not being as bad as you could have been.”
Tears stung her eyes, and she blinked them away. “All right.”
He muttered a curse and dropped his hands. “See? I’m still a shitty hero. But I’m trying this time.”
She felt the loss of his touch so sharply. In the weeks and months after she’d kicked the drugs, that had been the thing she’d struggled with the most. The previous years of her life had been blurry, every sensation vague, and getting sober was like waking up to a whole new world.
She had relished it, thrown herself into a hedonistic pursuit of sensory decadence. Food, laughter, sex, dancing. Everything had been real, maybe for the first time ever…and her only regret was that Finn hadn’t been there to share it.
It was easy to see now that he’d been wallowing in blame and self-loathing, instead.
Trix moved without thinking, taking the wet gauze from his hands and turning her attention to the blood smeared on his cheeks. “I missed you.”
It was his turn to close his eyes. “Me too, Tracy. Trix.”
His brows drew together, and she smoothed away the furrow with her thumb. Such a tiny bit of contact, but it zinged through her like a shock, and she realized it felt right, like a habit she’d completely forgotten.
She’d touched him like this before.
The feeling of familiarity only increased when he rested his hands on her hips. “You seem good.”
“Good?” Across to his temple, down over his cheek to the rough beard covering his jaw.
“Happy. Healthy.” His thumb swept over her hip in a slow arc, tracing the curve. “You were always too damn skinny. I used to worry.”
I know. But the words failed her as heat washed up her spine. Oh, she remembered this. His hands, scorching even through layers of fabric.
It wasn’t enough.
She stared at his mouth. It would be easy to blame her arousal on the adrenaline, on emotion and danger running hot and high, but the ache ran deeper than that. Harder.
He was watching her now, and she met his intent gaze with another jolt. It was stupid to sit here and not touch him, assuage that ache, especially when she’d lain awake so many nights wanting to do just that.
O’Kanes didn’t deny their desires. They indulged them.
So she shifted, leaning closer, until her lips almost touched his. “What?”
“If you’re up to it, we should keep moving.”
The regret in his voice—and the reality of their situation—helped to ease the sting of his words. She leaned back and nodded. “Right.”
“Hey.” Roughened fingertips touched her cheek, and he smiled as he let his thumb ghost across her lower lip. “You just returned from the dead. I need to keep you that way. Alive.”
“Is there a way around the collapsed section of tunnel?”
“Probably, but not one we can use. Most of the locks are electronic, and I can’t do shit about those. We’re going to have to risk going up.”
There was a rumpled map sticking out of the open bag, one she vaguely remembered him cursing at as they made their way through the tunnels. She pulled it free and unfolded it on her lap.
A maze of tiny, intersecting lines confronted her. She blinked to clear her lingering double vision and tilted her head. The whole thing looked like a wheel, a blank central point surrounded by a larger circle marked off in radiating sections.
She traced a finger from Five due east to Four. There were fewer tunnels marked in that direction. Most of the map seemed dedicated to the opposite—multiple routes leading across the river through Sectors Six and Seven, all the way up to Eight. “It looks like your friend planned on going this way.”
“Six,” Finn said after a moment. His finger joined hers, sliding over the lines that delineated the sector. “I know people there. If we can’t get across the border to Four, we can go that way.”
But Four was so fucking close. All they had to do was cross the damn street, and she’d be there, home. Did they even know she was gone yet? More importantly, had they found Zan in time?
Trix pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. “They have to know we might try to run for it.”
“Yeah.” He smoothed her hair. “If we get to Six, we can send word to O’Kane, one way or another. You’ll be safe, and they’ll figure out a way to get you home.”
It wasn’t enough. “We both have to make it through this, Finn. Promise me.”
Finn caught her hands and tugged them from her face. When she looked up at him, he smiled. “I can’t keep you safe from the grave, doll. I promise. I’m not looking for a way out of this life.”
The way he said it made it sound like a new development. “It was the truth, wasn’t it? You were waiting for a chance. Not just to take him down, but to kill him.”
His smile didn’t falter as he rubbed his thumbs over her palms. “I’ve been waiting to kill him since the day you died.”
And Mac Fleming deserved it. Because of the drugs, because of the way he used and disposed of people, and because he’d created a culture of hopelessness in his sector, where even men who wanted to do the right thing couldn’t. Where men like Finn bowed under the pressure until they broke.
In the end, there was only one thing to say. “Good.”
* * *